Blog Posts in the game design category

The Case for Both Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Relationships

there are quite a few smart folks out there putting forth theories on why followers (vs. friends) are the “right” way to go.

sorry i’m so late with this. i know i threatened to write it up last week, but, you know. spare time being what it is.


there are quite a few [smart folks[( out there putting forth theories on why followers (vs. friends) are the “right” way to go. it’s good stuff. you should read it as a preface to this. it’s the kind of stuff i churn over all the time as chief web dude over at metaplace.

the crux of the discussion is what’s better? friends or followers? friends where, through granted requests, you explicitly create a two-way relationship with someone or followers where, by you “following” them back, you create an implicit two-way relationship.

and here’s my official thought, social media sites. (twitter, friendfeed, facebook, myspace, etc.) so listen up — you need both.

here’s why: both methods, regardless of how they are implemented, are dual purpose.

purpose 1 you create an important relationship between you and another person. you want to know what they’re doing. you want to keep in touch. it’s someone you care about. you know — that whole “social” thing.

purpose 2 it’s a scoreboard, man. who has the most friends? who’s the most popular? who has the biggest network of contacts? you know — a social leaderboard.

“so?” you say.

well. it leads to a problem. mostly, it’s all about the extra noise.

someone requests a friendship with you, either by clicking “add friend” or simply by following you, and you say “oh, i casually know that person” or “that was nice of them to follow me” and you confirm the relationship.

pretty soon, you have hundreds — even thousands in some cases depending on your notoriety — of friends.

well, as it turns out, that dunbar number isn’t really a lie despite facebook’s best efforts. you don’t really care intimately about all of those people. but, there you are, with a huge polluted friends list that you can’t really trim down without looking like a huge douche. (celebrities are mostly exempted from the “trim means douche” rule just because of the sheer number of fans they have)

you start dropping all those people you knew back in high school or your friend’s parents or whatever from your public friends list, you’re gonna get called on it. just ask kevin rose.


this is a lot of words to really explain something pretty simple: we need to use something akin to the rss model.

you have private friends.

and you have public subscribers.

this still gives you a public scoreboard number that you can show off like a freakin’ badge of honor and yet, you still can have a smaller, more manageable list of “important people” that you care about.

subscriber is easy and carefree. very asymmetrical. like twitter’s followers. you subscribe. they subscribe. everyone subscribes! it’s free love and big points for all my friends! … er… followers. er… subscribers.

friends, however, is an explicit declaration by both people to “become friends” or promote the simple subscriber relationship to a full-on “lemme know ALL your dirt” relationship. nobody outside of you two has to know about the relationship. it can stay clean and pure.

best of all, it gives you a chance to filter the data accordingly. (this is where i pwn all you who are saying to yourselves “why not just use followers and groups, noob!”) the data you care about is going to be different from friend to subscriber. you have two different buckets where data pours into.

let us use facebook as an example.

raise your hand if you hate, hate, hate getting all the retarded app requests from every single person on facebook that you’ve friended. scans the room and sees everyone but crazy aunt hilda in the back has their hand raised

if you merely subscribe to someone, you wouldn’t get those. you’d get explicit updates (comments, photos, direct messages, etc.) they put out, but not all of the app spam we all “love.”

all that goes into a subscriber bucket (prolly more like a lake, really) that you can dip your toes into and pull out memes or themes every now and then or just submerge yourself and let the noise of it all just wash over you.

however, your newly minted m3mnoch-proposed friends would be sending you full feeds of everything like normal. all the subscriber stuff, plus app notes or anything else that they’re doing that would implicitly be interesting to you. because, if they’re one of the 10 or 20 friends you actively follow and they update their facebook bowling app (is there really one?) with the turkey they just threw, dude — you wanna know! cause you’re prolly playing the same game! right now! (i promise i won’t tell…)

…especially if that saves them the email they’d have to send to you bragging about it anyway.

and then! then, you don’t have to worry about spammy updates! the people who you are real friends with would now only include the people you’re prolly on im with all day anyway.

and once you can get the wires that tight, there’s all kinds of cool integration you can do. automatic trust-type stuff you just can’t assume with today’s friending setups. not to mention awesome data mining and discovery stuff you can assemble from a developer’s standpoint.

hell. you might even be able to pull all that external im conversation onto your site.

i mean, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about how many people billy sends an app request to because you would know that all his friends — not subscribers — are honest-to-god interested in it?

Web-based MMOG Imagineering

i’ve been doing a lot of imagineering (man, i love that word) lately when it comes to web-based mmogs. lots of stuff running the gamut from super-secret ideas i can’t tell anyone about right now to general wonderings and observations.

i’ve been doing a lot of imagineering (man, i love that word) lately when it comes to web-based mmogs. lots of stuff running the gamut from super-secret ideas i can’t tell anyone about right now to general wonderings and observations.

well. i think i’ll just dump some of them out right here so i have them collected somewhere.

subscription fees are choice inhibiting.

paying those subscription fees certainly add up. i know you can say “well, just pay them for the 3 months you play and then get rid of them.”

no. it doesn’t work like that.

the thing with a subscription fee is that it represents commitment. there’s a high switching cost involved. and, since not very many people can afford to pay subscriptions for, oh, 15 games over the course of two years, you tend not to move on to those newer games. we basically have the wow effect where everyone is really only in a few games.

it really moves buying games into parallel with buying cars. you really like different models and styles, but, you have to make an informed decision about one — and only one — you’ll enjoy and use enough to make its acquisition worth it.

with non-subscription games, they are more like traditional media. more like movies or music. you just pop it in and play it whenever you want. you know that from purchase so there is no “will i use this in the future?” or “will i like this better than everquest?” or “will something better come along?” the only factor is the “now” factor. how does buying it impact you right now?

non-subscription games are very much more pickup-putdown with no real switching cost. that lets you consume more game media.

web servers are more conducive to a persistent online world.

this one is tricky and i’m not going to try not to get too awful web-geeky on it.

the gist is that, for example, has millions of concurrent users — all of whom can be on the exact same page at the exact same time. that is absolutely no different performance-wise than all of those million people being on a million separate pages.

not only performance, but the web is better at information dissemination than a graphical, high-visual client.

for example, if these million players were all in one place on a wow server (assuming of course the server wouldn’t go chernobyl on the situation) you wouldn’t really be able to pick out any one particular player to attack or inspect or what-have-you. with something like the singular, you can just ask them how many users per page you want to see?

i mean, has anyone ever seen how many google results come up for the word “page?”

oh sure, you say, but there’s an immersive, graphical richness that can’t be achieved with this silly text and lightweight graphical environment called the web. to that, i say, use the best-of-breed parts of both. use the data layout of a web page and the graphically rich aspects of flash for your deeper spatial relation needs.

the future of mmogs is going to be about ajax-enabled rest applications.

event-based feedback consumable in sub-5 minute increments.

as you may know, signing on and logging into wow may take you a while. hell, it takes 5 minutes on a good day to get logged into something you can actually “play.”

contrast that with 3 or 4 seconds to get to a play screen with travian. your login credentials are cached so all you really need is a bookmark to your village overview.

now, with that same 5 minutes you’re logging into wow, i can check guild messages, send appropriate reinforcements, build a new building, train some additional troops and send out a spy mission — and still have time left over.

that’s a lot of gameplay compacted into a short amount of time.

and, that’s the kind of stuff you just can’t do in a 3d world.

by the time you wander over to the auction house, i’ve already hit the marketplace, scanned the available trades, accepted a trade, sent merchants and moved on to planning my next action. and that’s only if you happen to be close to the auction house when we start.

now that we’ve decided that gameplay interaction is faster with a web-based mmog, what can we do with it?

well. what makes gameplay addictive? incremental goals and achieving them, right? well. now, we can have more. more incremental goals and they can be closer together. it’s called instant gratification and it’s a goddamn drug.

and, what quality makes a game permeate throughout your life? being able to get in and get out of the world instantly. how easy is it to check your inbox for new messages? how easy is it to check the box score of the game last night? how easy is it to check what google’s stock closed at today? how easy is it to see if your reinforcements got attacked in your alliance?

answer: super-easy. mere seconds even.

that turns playing a game into a “walk-by” experience. busy working around the house? on an excel document? writing an email? tv commercialing?

multi-task gaming. pop-in. pop-out. top of mind.

and, we haven’t even touched the portability aspect. connected to the same game on your treo 650? yep, you sure are.

the web is the single most efficient content distribution channel in history. mmogs, at their core, are just specialized, interactive content distribution in need of a super-efficient channel.

Game Design Brief: Warbinder

Binders are greater lords who bind together teams of warriors, train them, and then enter them into deadly combat with other Binders’ teams to fight for the ultimate title of Warbinder.


Binders are greater lords who bind together teams of warriors, train them, and then enter them into deadly combat with other Binders’ teams to fight for the ultimate title of Warbinder. Will you be the next Warbinder?


You start as a fledgling Binder with only 8 lowly warriors under your control. Each individual Bound has a multitude of differing strengths and abilities. From here, you have a few options for building a well integrated team of mighty gladiators whose skills supplement and balance each other.


You can get out and scour the world capturing, bribing or persuading fighters to join your cause. The method of capture you should choose will depend on the nature of the particular Bound you are trying to bring under your control. Some are more aggressive. Some are more crafty.


Logging into the secure web site or through the game interface will allow Binders to connect and trade Bound with other Binders. Since the warriors have fixed cost values and variable training levels, the trade combinations are limitless. Perhaps you have trained your lowly Umglot to an amazing level, but he doesn’t fit well into the firearms team you are building. Trade him for a vastly more powerful, but not as well trained Nitarian Flame Sniper.


Through secure online transactions, you can purchase groups of warriors outright. These “booster packs” will include a variety of untrained Bound based on rarity and point values.

Once you have built up your force, train your warriors well for soon it will be time to enter the coliseum for your first training battle. Carefully command your Bound during series after series of single player action against Binder configurable training Bots. Use the Bot control panel to tune the Bot’s combat abilities anywhere from a particular fighting style to general melee and train your Bound how to defeat them. Teach them combat formations and individual skills to counter any foe. The more you train, the better your Bound will be in live combat.

Then, log in, find a worthy adversary and put it all on the line for the title of Warbinder.

The huge metal doors hum and then slam shut behind your team of 5 well trained Bound. O’Keefe is your wolfman bristling with electro-static knives. Shahara begins to glow with armor made of light as she begins to cast a protection spell. Kongar, a monstrous barbarian, steps forward with his dual, humming battle axes. H’rathsis hovers near by as he readies the stinging spikes along his manta ray shaped body. And finally, Jake steps forward and racks his over and under double-barreled shotgun. He clenches his teeth, puts on his shades and says grimly, “Let’s get it on.”

On the far side, as your opponents enter the ring, you offer up a prayer that you have taught your team enough about teamwork – that you have taught them enough about each other – that you have taught them enough about themselves to not only come out alive, but to win. And then, someday, that they will make you a Warbinder.


The game takes place in a world of techno-sorcery. Sweeping, flaming swords carve through concrete walls and mighty sorcerers battle against armored troops carrying shock rifles. Search far and wide for your future Bound. Trek through rolling hillsides and forests, in over populated hi-tech megacities or hike the deserts and canyons of the world of Galtaar. Home of the most powerful beings in the cosmos – Warbinders.


  • 100 different races and styles of warriors with different abilities.
  • Build complimentary teams based around strategic combinations of individual powers.
  • Train your Bound to a higher skill level to become more powerful.
  • Advanced learning AI.
  • Many different skills for characters to learn.
  • Shift characters around to build different teams.
  • Find, purchase or trade to acquire different characters.
  • Trade characters in the game environment or on the web site.
  • Research, inspect and arrange your team in game, on the web site or even on your PDA

Ideas are a Dime a Dozen

i thought i would share a piece i wrote about a million years ago — okay. actually only 5.

i thought i would share a piece i wrote about a million years ago — okay. actually only 5. i was feeling a bit melancholy after having written a pretty decent game design brief, shipped it off to bioware, had it swapped to lucas arts (in exchange for kotor) where it eventually became the xbox game “gladius.”

heh. with not even so much as a pat pat “nice work.”

man, i wish i had taken some screenshots of their ‘back of the box’ bullets when they first announced the title. 70% of them were god damn verbatim. ah well. at least i know i can play at that level, eh?

Game development ideas are everywhere. Everyone has one. How many times have you and your friends been sitting around thinking to yourselves “Wouldn’t it be great if someone made this into a video game?” What if there was somewhere where you could put your ideas and have game developers actually take them under advisement?

This, of course, only works if two things happen. First, you have to be willing to share your “million dollar idea” and, second, game developers have to implement it.

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but, that idea of yours may be original and unique and the best thing since sliced bread, but there isn’t a game developer in the world who will sign an NDA to listen to your idea. They get hundreds upon hundreds of “idea” submissions every day. Not to mention the ideas of their own. You have to build it yourself or it won’t get made. That is, unless you push it out there to the game development community at large and hope someone picks it up.

Now, if you can cover that part, we at Addicting Entertainment are hoping to cover the sharing of our collective ideas with the people actually building games. If your idea is clever enough to make it into a game, you finally get to actually experience your idea.

Here’s where you may want to just stop reading and opt out of any idea sharing: We’re not in this to make money. Any ideas posted here are fair game.

By posting your “million dollar idea” you are turning it into a “zero dollar idea.” If some developer takes a fancy to your killer new idea for an FPS weapon, well, it sucks to be you. — In the monetary sense. You, of course, still retain the bragging rights to say “Dude! I posted my idea and id made it real! Woot!” You aren’t going to get paid for it. Not by us, nor (probably) by the game developer. Although, it would be nice if they publicly gave you a slap-on-the-back-you-rock-thanks. But they are not obligated to at all.

You might be asking, “Well, dammit. Why the hell would I post my great idea then?” Our answer? Because you are a gamer. We all are. If you are in game development or thinking about being in game development for the money, you need to rethink your career. Sure, just like in the music business there are a few rockstars (pun intended) but also, like in the music business, the majority of us slave away at our labor of love for free or barely enough to eat. If you want to make money building software, move into enterprise level software development. Boring, but lucrative. Games are fun, but you’ll likely be piss-poor if you do it for a living.

So you might as well share with the community and advance the art and science of gaming.

here’s what i was thinking. i’ll make an open call for user submitted design documents. i’ll post a design brief in a bit as an example. i’ve set up a category for them. i’ll see if i can get a couple up there that i’ve got rolling around in my head. there’s just not enough time for me to make them all, so i might as well put them up here just in case someone else wants to build one or two.

not sure how many i’ll see, but it would be fun to find out.

Fixing Game Economies

How I Learned to Stop Up the Sink and Love the Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey and Wage Slaves

In the real world not everyone can be a winner. Not everyone is successful. I know it’s hard to believe, but there actually are people out there who don’t like their job. The way real world economies are built depends on a lower wage class — the wage slave. There has to be someone to work the low paying, thankless jobs from the garbage men to the guy at the counter at McDonald’s. Not everyone can make absurd amounts of money just by essentially ‘showing up and having fun.’ If that happened, our economy would come crashing to its knees. Inflation would rise uncontrollably until the dollar approached near worthlessness.

It would be just plain bad.

Game worlds don’t work like that though. In a video game, everyone can be a winner. In a video game, players want to have fun and win. They have that right. After all, they bought and paid for the game. Why should anyone be expected to play a game where they are just one of the unwashed masses teeming with mediocrity.

Unlike in the real world they don’t have to battle each other to be the best. They battle the environment and the monstrous inhabitants living there. Each individual player is on their own Hero’s Journey. They all are playing to become more wealthy and powerful and none of that really depends on the other players in the game. It might in some small way, but, by and large, games are built to allow a single player to succeed without the help of anyone else.

Along each step of this journey, as they gain more experience and get more powerful, they are able to accumulate wealth easier. This propagates economic models that show each player’s individual wealth and power grow on an exponential curve. Goods and services provided in the game don’t. And they shouldn’t. If prices went up for these goods and services, lower level players wouldn’t be able to afford them. They wouldn’t have any fun and the game would tank. This causes inflation within the game. More money, fewer products for you to spend it on.

Money Sinks Aren’t Working

To counter this exponential growth in wealth across the board, developers have tried to implement money sinks. They are trying to siphon money out of the system with things like paying for transportation or paying rent on any property the player’s character might own. The issue with this is that the sinks aren’t exponential and thus won’t match the character’s potential income. The growth in wealth will always outpace the cost applied to these sinks. Eventually, they will get to a point where the player is making so much money in the game that these flatly priced money sinks will essentially have no effect on their wallets and we’re back to the same problem.

The developers could scale the cost of these sinks up, but that’s silly. Just because my character is a higher level than yours, I have to pay a higher price for my equipment? Even though it’s the very same equipment you are purchasing? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? With money comes power and influence — price discounts, not increases. Regardless, not only are there metagaming ways around this weird price fixing (low level fences, for example) but, it’s just a terrible idea. How many players do you know that enjoy paying arbitrary ‘taxes’ in any game they play?

Why Do We Have Two Currencies?

The problem at the root of all this is the simple fact that a game has two currencies — experience points and money. really, these days, we have to have three currencies. two we earn and one we purchase with real money.

Sure the theory sounds like a greatgood idea, after all, you need more money to purchase better equipment so it should just balance out. But, the player doesn’t need every suit of armor or sword they come upon. Either their character can’t use it or it’s not as good as their current item so they sell them.

For example, you can kill 100 different monsters with a 10gp sword, but the items and equipment and money that come off of those 100 monsters are more than likely worth a lot more than the 20gp upgraded sword. That, and along the way you are getting experience points for killing the monsters. So, that 10gp sword gets more effective without anymore cost to the player.

In our example, it costs the player nothing to make fistfuls of gold and become more powerful. That 10gp sword is netting huge ROI because of the multiplying effect of having these two currencies. All this and it’s actually fun!

Money Equals Power

The simple solution is to tie money to power. If experience points were inextricably linked to gold, it would negate the desire to stockpile the money and reduce us back down to a single currency. If characters had to pay 1 gold (or however your currency breaks down) for each experience point, it would solve the problem. You need to pay for power.

This will make money scarce again. Does the player buy that new armor upgrade or do they put the money (in addition to experience points) into leveling up? What’s the best part about that money spent on leveling up? They aren’t buying anything they can resell and the gold required scales with power. It essentially drops us back down to a single currency.

This levels the playing field. Just because a character is a higher level doesn’t necessarily mean he can afford goods and services any easier than a lower level character. Sure, it’s easier for him to make and hold money, but players should be able to make that decision. Do you think they will want to hold the money and stagnate in their power or do you think they will spend that money on experience points and be broke again?

The idea of paying for training is essentially what we are talking about here. It’s an ages old concept in games — one that was done away with in this age of instant gratification. As it turns out, paying for training is actually a critical part of keeping the economy in check. It gives those players somewhere to spend their money.

Buy better equipment or advance in levels? It’s a fantastic choice to put to the player. Chances are that the entire game is built around choices like that anyway. Do you want the fireball spell or the strength buff spell? More mana or more hit points? This means it shouldn’t affect gameplay in any negative fashion.

In fact, it should actually enhance the gameplay by adding an additional strategic element to it.

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About Topher Chapman

i like to write.

well... and paint. and program video games. and model economies. and run, surf, play football, etc. basically, i'm one of those irritating polymaths. my achilles heel, however, is obviously capitalization.

this is me, hurling my writing at you.

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